Irish Independent - Weekend Magazine - - Drink -

If I asked you to de­scribe port, what would you say? Prob­a­bly that it is red and you drink it at Christ­mas. Un­less of course, you’ve vis­ited Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, the two stun­ning Por­tuguese ci­ties that lie ei­ther side of the River Duoro, al­most touch­ing dis­tance, re­flect­ing their his­toric, colour­ful build­ings in the wa­ter. It is quite sim­ply im­pos­si­ble not to learn about port when you visit here and if you haven’t been, this is def­i­nitely a city to put at the top of your week­end break list.

I vis­ited for the first time in Septem­ber, for Port Wine Day, and when I was there, I vis­ited the San­de­man “Lodges” or cel­lars at Vila Nova de Gaia, where tours range from €12 to €40, de­pend­ing on what ports you taste at the end. It’s a good place to visit a bit be­fore lunch, as they have a re­ally nice restau­rant, and, as I dis­cov­ered when I looked around af­ter­wards, they also have a re­ally cool hos­tel, which has some pri­vate rooms, so well worth check­ing out.

The San­de­man cel­lars, which look out across the river close to the Dom Luis Bridge, have been used for more than two cen­turies to age port wine in huge oak casks be­fore it is bot­tled, and as you’d ex­pect, the iconic San­de­man “Don” logo is very much in ev­i­dence. The Don’s cape was mod­elled on the at­tire worn by univer­sity stu­dents in Porto, while his wide-brimmed Span­ish-style hat re­flects the San­de­man fam­ily’s pres­ence in Jerez. Here, like many of the port houses, they make a few dif­fer­ent styles of port — white, tawny and red — and it is in­ter­est­ing to taste the dif­fer­ence be­tween the three styles. White ports can be dry or sweet, but the style that has be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar is the zesty, dry style which is fan­tas­tic as a port tonic, a light al­ter­na­tive to a G&T.

The tawny style of port, which is lighter in colour, is al­lowed to age in old oak and has a more dried fruit and a nutty char­ac­ter, and is beau­ti­ful served slightly chilled. And for the red ports, it does get a lit­tle bit more com­pli­cated as there is ruby, late bot­tled vin­tage and vin­tage, climb­ing in qual­ity and price ac­cord­ingly.

Vin­tage port is the one we of­ten hear about, but it is only made in ex­cep­tional years. The sec­ond spring af­ter har­vest, the in­di­vid­ual houses make their de­ci­sion on whether to de­clare a vin­tage for their par­tic­u­lar port. When more than 10 houses de­clare the year a vin­tage, the Con­fraria do Vinho do Porto, or Port Wine Brother­hood will also de­clare is as a ‘Vin­tage Con­fraria’. For 2016, 40 port houses de­clared their vin­tage, mak­ing it a truly aus­pi­cious year. It’s a spec­tac­u­lar cer­e­mony ( pic­tured) which sees each house pour a bot­tle of their port into a gi­ant glass to make a spe­cial blend for that vin­tage. So if you want to mark 2016, this is the vin­tage to buy.

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